It’s an early winter afternoon and a handful of mattress making units behind the historic Mecca Masjid are bustling with activity. Mohd Qadeer, in his late 30s, holds a big lump of cotton and slowly feeds it into a machine, used to produce the highly refined spotless cotton material that is needed for mattresses or toshak making and dhunking.
“It is the initial stage of making mattresses, pillows and cushions. Only one machine is used by us, while the rest of the work is done by hand. We fill the cushion, bed and pillow covers with cotton and later pack it,” says Qadeer.
Despite the hazardous nature of work, hundred-odd workers are employed at the traditional mattress making units in the Old City, which are run from one or two ‘mulgis’ in the commercial area. “There are families which still prefer cotton over coir mattresses. Cotton is comfortable and after a few years you can renew the mattress and use it again,” says Sajid Ali, another mattress maker.
Mattresses of different sizes, pillows and cushions are manufactured at these units. “The demand for our products is pretty high during marriage season as it is mandatory to gift mattress, pillows and cushions to the new couple. It is more of a tradition,” says Sajid.
Those employed at the mattress making units earn anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000 a month. “Remuneration is not commensurate with the tough physical labour that we do. But it is a family vocation and we continue with it. The next generation is least interested in taking up this business,” laments Saleem Baig, a worker at a mattress unit in Lad Bazaar.
Those in the vocation say that with the cost of cotton rising sharply, their profit margins are falling. “After paying wages to labour and spending on raw material, we are left with slender margins. Still we are continuing with it as we have no other sources of income,” he added.
In the past, during summer when there was good sunshine, the mattress makers used to do trips of localities to repair the mattresses. That practice, however, is long gone now. Due to shortage of labour, for those who still pursue the vocation with passion, mattress making is confined to workshops.
“The demand for machine-made mattresses using coir or foam is good and remunerative. But in the older part of the State’s capital, the cotton made mattresses continue to remain in high demand,” maintains Imtiyaz, a shop owner at Lad Bazaar. #KhabarLive